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Monday, January 19, 2004

City life

What I always notice about Arizona is the quiet. I know that there are bustling urban centers -- I also know that what I refer to as my hometown is just as sleepy and quiet as Tempe. But the utter stillness of Nicky's house is always startling, marvelously so. On Saturday morning, my first morning there, I woke up and made a bowl of cereal. There were a few birds outside; my spoon would occasionally knock against the bowl. Otherwise, stillness.

The sirens in LA seem louder these days. There always seems to be a helicopter or an ambulance roaring by while I'm watching Sex and the City or making a dent in my pile of magazines. And it's something you get used to, you know? A human being can get used to anything if she puts her mind to it.

The quiet was lovely, however. I had never heard of noise pollution until I was in my late teens, and I didn't understand it because I lived in a town that outlawed sidewalks and streetlights because they were too "urban." But now I understand the concept of too much clutter, too much pushing in around the eardrums. The feeling that there's too much to take in, too much crap to filter out. The overwhelming sensation of just too much. The way drowning feels.

Lately, I've been feeling in the mood for travel, which inexplicably has made me crave a hot dog, just like the ones people get in New York in the movies. When you're a vegetarian and it's been eight years since you last ate red meat, a hot dog manages to gain the allure of the exotic.

Fortunately, this is LA, where lifestyle choices never get in the way of consumerism. So today, after a long drive back and a few hours spent meditating in front of the TiVo, I went for a nice long walk to Pink's Hot Dogs. Say this for the AIDS walk -- my fear of walking in Los Angeles was conquered indeed.

1.5 miles isn't so bad when you have NPR broadcast directly to your ears, pundits carefully explaining what the deal is with caucauses and Dean conceding magnaminously as you walk down Melrose. And there's something to look at, everywhere I turn.

A little girl, demonstrating dance steps for the women getting their hair braided in the salon down the street. Groups of teenage girls gossiping as they flock like birds from one trendy clothing store to the next. Two guys flirting over baskets of clean laundry, one hand dipping into another's back pocket. An elaborate altar to a deceased dog ("fur-person") named Peaches, with Milkbones and lollipops left as offerings. Christmas tree lights, still up in January.

And me in my big black coat and Sketchers and bad hair day, a hot dog rumbling in my stomach, able to walk for miles. The girl everyone hated in junior high school, the girl who never fit in in a town without streetlights. Alone, alert, and unafraid.

The noise is a bother. But I like the life of this place.

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